The Greek word nikao, meaning “to conquer,” appears twenty-eight times in the New Testament. Luke uses the word once, Paul twice; John accounts for the other twenty-five. The first and only use in his Gospel comes near the end of Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, His final words of instruction and comfort to the disciples before His death:
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
What the disciples would encounter over the next twenty-four hours (not to mention the rest of their lives) would test them beyond anything they ever could have imagined. John, the only disciple to witness the crucifixion, must have kept this last statement close to his heart: “I have conquered the world.” As an old man writing to churches and recording the revelation of Jesus Christ, he would return to this concept many times.
Here is a brief sampling:
You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1John 4:4) Because everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. Who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1Jo 5:4-5) I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, its image, and the number of its name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God. (Rev 15:2) "The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son. (Rev 21:7)
John loves to refer to believers as those “who conquer,” or as some translations put it, as “overcomers.” Sometimes this moniker is misapplied as a mantra of self-power and motivation. But, that’s terrible theology. John is clearly making a connection to Jesus’ victory over the world that has been handed to those united to Him in salvation.
To put it more simply: Jesus’ victory over the world is our victory.
Victory over the World’s Philosophies
The world-system offers a smorgasbord of philosophies, but most of them boil down to ideas such as “Live your truth”; “God helps those who help themselves”; and “Follow your heart.” The world loves to tell us that we are basically good and that society around us is messed up. Messages like these bombard us from every side: social media, TV, movies, books, magazines, advertisements, music. Because of the constant deluge, we can easily start to believe that resistance is futile (which is Satan’s plan exactly). However, Jesus has conquered the world and its philosophies. We need not be taken in by the dogma of our culture. We can stand firm if we keep our eyes on the Victor.
The Truth has conquered the empty philosophies of the world! (John 14:6; Col. 2:8-15)
Victory over the World’s Temptations
The ubiquity of the philosophies of the world is rivaled only by the omnipresence of its temptations. Just as Christian, on his way to the Celestial City, had to endure one temptation after another—the Slough of Despair, Doubting Castle, Vanity Fair—we too grapple with temptations assailing us from every side. The “prince of this world” loves to whisper the temptations in our ear: “It’s not worth it. You’re not worth it. Just give it up already.” He knows our weaknesses and preys on them like a lion stalking a wounded antelope. So, lured away by the lusts of our own hearts and by the trimmings and empty promises of the world, we fall again. It can feel like a battle against a windmill.
But it’s not.
No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it. (1Co 10:13)
Jesus’ victory over temptations of the world is yours.
Victory over the World’s Sucker-Punches
The phone call you prayed you’d never receive. The news at the doctor’s office that had been only a figment of nightmares. The police line you never imagined you’d have to cross. Sometimes the fallen world delivers a sucker-punch to the gut from which you think you will never recover.
Living under the curse entails a lot of groaning—from creation itself and from the creatures. Of course, the Man of Sorrows knew something about suffering. He, in all likelihood, lost His father at a young age, was forced to evade attempts on His life many times, was betrayed by one supposed friend and denied by another all in one night; and the full, eternal, infinite wrath of God was poured out on Him, though He Himself was innocent of any transgression. Through that one, ultimate act of suffering, Christ purchased the victory over every sucker-punch the devil could ever throw.
For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. (Rom 8:20-21)
Jesus’ victory over the world’s low blows belongs to you too.1
Victory over the World’s Weakness and Brokenness
Like strict but effective teacher, the COVID pandemic has taught us many lessons, one of which is that we humans are not as tough as we thought. While the disease often preys on the weak, it has had its way with many perfectly healthy victims. As the toilet paper shortages (among other things) revealed, we typically want to run as far away from our vulnerability as possible. Like Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” we think we can throw a ball in our palace, pretending that the brick walls and iron gates can keep death at bay. But, as the prince learns, we can’t. Death, weakness, and brokenness come for us.
For some, weakness knocks on the door at a young age, perhaps even before birth. For others, it seems to stay away until the inevitable aches and pains of old age finally catch up. But, for all of us, whatever it looks like, weakness and vulnerability are a part life.
But we’re not without hope. One day the birth defects, mental illnesses, cancers, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, degenerative neurological diseases, and every other type of weakness will be overcome.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:16-17)
Jesus’ victory over the brokenness of the world guarantees incomparable glory in eternity.
Victory over the World’s Inability to Satisfy
Satan, the ultimate bait-and-switch con artist, manipulates the world to offer all sorts of substitutes for water, claiming that they will quench your thirst. In the end, however, they’re just dressed-up saltwater. Riches, power, success, beauty, youth, popularity, approval, or a fulfilling relationship—these pseudo-thirst quenchers can be found in every store, on every show, in every ad break, and on every phone. We long for these things like the deer pants for the water. And, as the Pringles commercials used to tease us: “Once you pop, you just can’t stop.”
At least, that’s how it feels.
If you’ve ever longed for the day when your heart’s proclivity for idols will once and for all be put to death, rejoice. Christ’s victory over the world includes victory over its inability to satisfy. While we will not know ultimate satisfaction in Christ on this side of heaven, we can certainly begin wetting our whistles with the Living Water today and watch as “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
The Blessed Result: Peace
Jesus told his disciples many difficult truths in John 13-16, but He didn’t do so to get them all riled up. Ironically, He told them in order to give them peace. Then He made the promise we’ve been exploring: “For I have conquered the world.” We can have peace and courage today because we are united to the Conquering King. His onslaught of the enemy belongs to us.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
1 If you’re in a season of intense suffering, I realize that my short paragraph may seem trite and insensitive. “Sucker-punches” are not overcome by a single paragraph in a blog post. I know that. However, my goal is to give a broad, though not exhaustive, look at how Jesus’ victory is ours. Please don’t interpret that goal as a lack of compassion for your valley of tribulation.